The United States is Christmas crazy. I mean that literally. You have heard the Christmas carol Twelve Days of Christmas, but the actual statistics state that the official Christmas season is five weeks long! Retailers depend on Christmas sales to make a profit for the year, and they start to decorate and promote Christmas items before Thanksgiving. Many people depend on seasonal Christmas jobs to augment their income and make ends’ meet. Tragically, there have even been Christmas shopping fights and fatalities. Our culture is Christmas crazy!
We should not have an ad hoc mentality when comes to Christmas, blindly going with the flow and taking what’s easy instead of thinking ahead and devising strategies for action and engagement with the culture. As Christians, and hopefully as thinking Christians, we should think things through and be prepared for what may even seem routine – like Christmas. If I were to ask you, “Are you ready for Christmas?” Would you immediately think of…
- Christmas shopping
- Christmas decorations
- Christmas cards
- Christmas baking
- Christmas travel plans
- Christmas parties
There is certainly a sense in which all of those things play into our preparedness for the Christmas event, but they should only be a part of Christmas and by no means the most important part. Instead of all the above, are you prepared to ensure that your family, friends, and co-workers understand that Jesus Christ is indeed “the reason for the season”? We need to have a strategy for Christmas, and the strategy must go beyond presents, pictures, pageants, and parties. Do you have a strategy?
Your answer may be “Why on earth would I need a strategy for Christmas?” The answer is simple. Have you ever wanted to take advantage of the Christmas holiday to have a family talk about the real meaning of Christmas or maybe to speak with a friend about the season’s reason and before you realize it you’re cleaning up wrapping paper on December 26th and thinking to yourself, “I can’t believe it’s already over?!” That is why we should think this through before it’s over. That is why we should have a Christmas strategy. It’s good to have a plan.
The answer to the “how” question is just as simple, but it’s more involved. The simple answer is that Christians should have a Biblical strategy for Christmas. (By the way, we should have a Biblical strategy for everything, but this is Christmas time so we’ll limit ourselves for the moment.) That’s the simple part of the answer, now let’s delve into the more involved aspect, and I’ll do that by asking some (more) questions.
Should we celebrate Christmas?
Perhaps your Christmas strategy is to have no Christmas at all! Many of this nation’s founding families were Puritans, and they refused to celebrate Christmas. It would be difficult to find more orthodox believers than the Puritans. While I certainly do not agree with all of their theological positions or some of their legislative policies, I would be hard-pressed to find another group of people who dearly loved the Lord and desired to honor Him. Don’t believe all the caricatures and stereotypes about the Puritans. If your only exposure to them is The Scarlet Letter then you are misinformed. If the name Puritans can only conjure up images of prudish, boorish, modern-day hypocrites and witch trials then you have been duped. There is much more to the Puritans than all of that, and much to imitate. Should canceling Christmas be one thing in which they are imitated?
The Puritans’ refusal to celebrate Christmas may be distilled down to a couple of reasons. First, they felt the holiday had fallen into abuse. Instead of being a day that was devoted to Christ and Christian celebration it had become a day of wanton partying. The day had become associated with drinking, reveling, and its focus had shifted from the Savior to only merriment, and usually corrupt merriment. Everything but Christ was emphasized, so the Puritans abandoned Christmas.
The second reason is that they considered it wrong to celebrate and emphasize Christ’s incarnation only once a year, as opposed to having that marvelous truth before our eyes throughout the year. As Christians, the Puritans argued, the glorious truth of God being made flesh so that He might die on the cross as atonement for sins should not be reserved for acclaim in only December; instead it should be commemorated year round.
I don’t think we should dismiss the Puritans’ reasoning as quickly as some may like to do, because the holiday is less of a “holy day” and more of a “time off of work so let’s have a good time day.” I agree with the Puritans on both counts. I think it is inarguable that Christmas is abused, by non-believers and believers alike. The day is used as an excuse to party, be greedy, or get charge happy. Even for those who don’t get drunk, are not greedy, and who don’t get (too) charge happy, the celebration has less to do with Christ and more to do with “the season” or the “spirit” of Christmas (and that isn’t a reference to the Holy Ghost). Christmas is seen as a time to feel good about yourself, your neighbors, family, anything and everything but Jesus Christ being made flesh. This is a theologically rich holiday, but the theology is either left out or given scant time, while Santa, snow, presents, and “Christmas spirit” are the primary focus.
This ought not to be, but while I agree with the Puritans’ reasoning I do not agree with their strategy to just call the whole thing off.
How then should we celebrate Christmas?
#1 – We Must Celebrate Christmas with Honesty
Now, before you label me as the ultimate Grinch, let it be known that the giving of gifts, the decorating of trees, and the assembling of families, even over great distances, are all truly wonderful traditions which I thoroughly enjoy, BUT if your Christmas celebration is dependant on any or all of those things then you need a new strategy.
Honestly, what we have done as Christians is combined the celebration of Christ’s birth with an entire season of consumerism, commercialism, and just plain busyness. This is often one of the most hectic and crazy periods of the year, with families running in all different directions to make it to every concert, cantata, office party, and so on, that many people feel relieved when the 26th comes around.
This ought not to be.
#2 – We Must Distinguish Fact from Fiction
A lot of fiction swirls around the wise men. The fiction starts with their number. We don’t know that only three Magi came to worship Jesus, and we definitely don’t know that their names were Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar. We don’t know that they visited Jesus on the night of His birth. In fact, the text clearly shows that they were not there on that holy night.
Here are the Biblical facts, and those are the only ones we can and should trust. We know for sure that Magi from the east – most likely Persia, modern day Iran – came to Jerusalem in search of the newly born King of the Jews. We know that this troubled the already paranoid Herod, and that, after counseling with his religious cohort, he sent the wise men off to Bethlehem. We know that when they arrived in Bethlehem Jesus and His family were not in a stable or an inn but in a “house”, and that Matthew refers to Him as a “young child” not a babe in swaddling clothes as Luke does when he recounts the holy night of Jesus’ birth. We do know that the wise men brought costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh because that is what one does when he visits the king. He brings gifts. We know that they worshipped the Christ-child, and that is a fact which we should emulate. We should be as aware as they were, and worship the one who was born King of the Jews, the one who was born to “save his people from their sins.”
Here is another fiction: the innkeeper was a cold-hearted miser who said “NO!” to a needy family. We don’t know anything about the innkeeper. We don’t even know if there was an innkeeper. It’s not like the owner of the Holiday Inn refused shelter to Joseph and Mary. There have been countless sermons and not a few songs about this heartless, money-grubbing, hell-bound innkeeper, who was probably the father of Barabbas (I write that sarcastically), yet all we know is that “She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” That is all we know!
We have to separate fact from fiction.
#3 – We Must Think about the Details
That does not mean that a neck-tie, gift card, or a book are comparable to God’s gift of Christ, but it does make me want to be giving; hopefully not just on the 25th of December. So I do not think it sacrilegious to exchange gifts at Christmas. I do think it is immoral to be greedy; even if you’re “greedy” on others’ behalf. Before you buy your first gift, plan out how much you should spend. Notice I said “should” and not “want.” You may be able to afford spending as much as you want, but that may be more than you should. Christmas is not like winning the lottery, so plan and shop accordingly.
#4 – We Must Celebrate Christmas Evangelistically
How shall He save His people from their sins? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved…For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (John 3:16-17; Romans 6:23). You see, it’s impossible to honestly speak about Christ’s birth without also speaking about His death. As remarkable as His birth was, His death, burial, and resurrection are just as fantastic.
Explain to people, starting with your kids if you have any, why Christmas should be celebrated, and that you celebrate the wonderful truth of the incarnation year-round!